We Built This City on Rock and Roll


By Cynthia Fishman, AIA| NCARB| LEED AP

“Music is liquid architecture; Architecture is frozen music.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

Music and architecture have always gone hand in hand for me.  I was one of those students (and am one of those architects) who has to listen to music while working and who goes through a TREMENDOUS amount of it on a weekly basis.  I am a huge music fan and having the right tunes helps me focus, be more creative and sometimes just stay awake.

I’ve been reading a lot of articles lately about the increase in headphone use at work due to open floor plans.  Music is essentially taking the place of walls in offices.  The Denver chapter of Architecture for Humanity is having a panel discussion tomorrow (May 27th) about the intersection of sound and the built environment titled “Dancing About Architecture.” To me it seems like the topic of music and design is really, really, ridiculously hot right now.

However, as the Goethe quote implies, discovering the relationship between music and architecture is not new. Both have always fallen under the creative umbrella but they also share unique characteristics; they follow a set of rules, rely on tools and the end product is something that needs to be experienced.  They are both art forms that can be based on rhythm, proportion and harmony. These qualities set the two apart from other creative endeavors.  The idea that music and architecture are different forms of the same thing is so intriguing to me.  It makes me wonder, if I would have designed different things on a certain day if I happen to be listening to different music.

During a recent morning at work while I was making my playlist for the day, it dawned on me how many songs, bands or lyrics directly deal with architecture or architects.  Even if the musicians weren’t aware of the deeper connection between the two art forms, maybe just as I am motivated by their music they were inspired by design.  So in an effort to share and hopefully expand this interesting connection, I’ve compiled a list that subtly or overtly references our profession.  I hope you enjoy and help me add to it.

  1.  “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright” by Simon and Garfunkel
  2. (The band) Architecture in Helsinki
  3.  “Don’t Worry About the Government” by The Talking Heads
  4. (The band) The Eames Era
  5.  “Come on! Feel the Illinoise!” by Sufjan Stevens
  6.  “Little Houses” by Pete Seeger
  7.  “Mansard Roof” by Vampire Weekend
  8.  “Sprawl I” by Arcade Fire
  9.  “Thru These Architect’s Eyes” by David Bowie
  10.  “Norwegian Wood” by The Beatles (even though this song is more about interior design, as a massive Beatles fan they had to make the list.)



Symphony of Modules by Istvan Anhalt

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